UK launches Institute for Research in Schools

Dr Becky Parker speaking at the launch of the UK’s new Institute for Research in Schools. (Image: Matt McCardle)

Every year, Becky Parker, Director of the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) and former Head of Physics at the Simon Langton Boys’ Grammar School in the southern English town of Canterbury, brings groups of young men and women to CERN as part of the school’s approach of involving its more senior students in research. Over recent years, Dr Parker’s initiative has blossomed in many ways, with students developing compact environmental radiation detectors based on the CERN-developed Timepix chip, deploying a cosmic ray detector network and even building detectors that are currently monitoring astronaut Tim Peake’s radiation levels on board the International Space Station. The whole project runs under the banner of CERN@school, and is supported by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC, the Institute of Physics and SEPnet. Students have had the opportunity to work with research teams from companies like Rolls-Royce and Surrey Satellite Technology, and organizations including NASA and ESA - as well of course as CERN, where the school is now part of the MoEDAL collaboration. The impact has been profound. Although a school for boys, young women are admitted for the final two years, and typically around 1% of all women embarking on physics degrees in the UK come from the Simon Langton every year.

Impressed with Dr Parker’s boundless energy and contagious enthusiasm, CERN invited her to give a talk at TEDxCERN in 2013, hopeful that it would inspire similar initiatives elsewhere. That hope was not unfounded, as Dr Parker explains.

“The reaction we got to my TEDxCERN talk was phenomenal,” she explains, “and it was an important step to where we are today. Without CERN, it’s fair to say that the Institute for Research in Schools would not exist.”

The Institute for Research in Schools provides opportunities and support for school students and their teachers to take part in authentic research in school.  It is a charitable trust developing a range of research fields within which schools develop their own research projects. Among the Institute’s key aims are nurturing the potential and ability of young people to contribute to the scientific community, increasing the uptake of post 16 maths, science and technology courses, increasing applications for STEM subjects at university, especially among girls, enhancing teachers’ expertise and job satisfaction in order to retain teachers and recruit more to the profession, and engaging Universities and Industry in sustained interaction with schools. As well as the CERN@school initiative, which already involves over 50 schools, the Institute also promotes research areas in the biomedical arena with the support of the Wellcome Trust.

CERN@school shows that you are never too young to contribute to science. And through the Simon Langton’s success at providing young people to study STEM subjects at University, it is a clear example of the power of CERN science to inspire the upcoming generation of scientists and citizens.

For more information, visit the Institute’s web site.